The following information is helpful for all survivors and friends of survivors during the healing process of an assault. To download a printable PDF guide to Supporting Survivors, click here. (link to Supporting Survivors PDF)
For more specific information, see the following:
Reactions to Sexual Assault
Survivors of sexual assault may experience a range of emotional, physical, and mental reactions to the trauma of being sexually assaulted, including not having any reaction at all. It is imperative to understand that each survivor will respond and react to the trauma in a different way. There is no prescribed method of healing from sexual assault, because each person's experience will vary. It is common for a survivor of sexual assault, regardless of how long ago the assault was committed, to possibly experience some of the following reactions and/or symptoms:
Physical injuries, fear, shock, eating disorders, Increased alcohol consumption or the use of substances as a coping mechanism, sexually transmitted infections, Guilt, Anxiety, Despair, Helplessness, Low self-esteem, Anger, Sadness, Rage, Vulnerability, Avoidance of loved ones or activities that were enjoyable prior to the assault, Numbness, Depression, Embarrassment, Humiliation, Isolation, Denial, Hyper-vigilance, Powerlessness, Shame, Mood swings, Hopelessness, Sense of disbelief, Lack of trust, Need to regain control, Increase or decrease in sexual activity, Intrusive memories of the assault, Flashbacks, Suicidal thoughts.
How You Can Help
As a friend, you are a good judge of what emotions and behaviors are common for your friend. If your friend, for no apparent reason, begins to act in an atypical manner, don't be afraid to ask directly what is wrong. You may be the first person to respond to your friend's problem, and for a victim of sexual assault, this is the starting point of recovery. Here are some strategies that you may find useful in helping your friend recover from the trauma they have experienced:
FIRE! Sexual Assault Peer Educators
Fighting Ignorance and Rape Through Education
Office of Health Promotion and Education, Sindecuse Health Center
Things to try to avoid when helping a survivor of sexual assault:
AN IMPORTANT NOTE FOR FRIENDS OF SURVIVORS:
As a trusted friend, you may be one of the best resources to a survivor of sexual assault. The above information has been provided to help you and those close to you, should someone in your life experience a sexual assault. It is important to note, however, that while you are an important resource to friends and loved ones, your highest priority must be your own health and safety. If you find that you are experiencing emotional stress or trauma as a result of another’s experience with sexual assault, please consider seeking counseling services and removing yourself from the situation, should you need to do so. This is an acceptable response and one that may benefit you and the survivor.